State Decision Makers are Critical to Reducing Preschool Expulsions

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Increasing funding for child mental health programs is key

Female teacher talking with parent and child

Every child deserves an equal opportunity to thrive in early education, yet far too many are unjustly excluded from these formative learning environments. When young children are expelled from childcare and early learning programs, they miss out on invaluable educational benefits, and disrupt their families’ ability to work.

Childcare expulsion disproportionately affects Black children and those with disabilities, highlighting a social justice concern. Investing in quality early care benefits children now and into the future, since early expulsions too often pave the path to expulsion and even juvenile justice involvement in the future.

It’s time to champion a brighter future for all children, whatever their background or abilities. We can end early learning expulsions by giving childcare providers and preschool teachers the support and resources they need, such as infant and early childhood mental health consultation (IECMHC). Through increased public funding, we can empower educators to create positive learning environments where every child can flourish.

What is IECMHC?

IECMHC is an evidence-based intervention that provides consultative support to educators, caregivers, and parents. It enhances educators’ capacity to manage challenging behaviors by offering insights into child development and mental health. IECMHC benefits the targeted children and their peers by improving social and collaborative skills and enhancing the learning environment.

IECMHC provides early care and education directors, educators, and families with direct access (by phone or in-person) to a mental health professional who provides consultative services focused on children’s healthy development. Services are usually offered in early learning settings, such as Head Start, preschools, and child care, but can also be delivered in home-based care settings. One of the most important aspects of these consultation services is building early educators’ knowledge of child development and mental health. That increases their capacity to manage children’s challenging behaviors in the classroom, and in turn, helps educators better support parents to manage children’s challenging behaviors at home as well.

Meeting the Need of Our Children

Through IECMHC, we address challenging behaviors and foster social and collaborative skills that benefit all young children in the learning community. By investing in these programs, we benefit children now, while also investing in our children’s and society’s future.

Funding IECMHC services can be challenging, but Medicaid can be a significant funding source if specific barriers are addressed, since Medicaid covers mental health services for eligible children. Under the Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment program, states are required to provide comprehensive benefits to children enrolled in Medicaid, including mental health services. When a child is eligible for services, Medicaid can be an effective funding source for IECMHC.

Paying for the service is only part of the story. We need a state-wide network of providers prepared to meet the needs of children and their families. Coordinated efforts must be made to build up our state’s qualified professionals to address the mental health needs of our youth.

Decision Makers Role

State legislators and policymakers can collaborate with local mental health practitioners and childcare providers to establish statewide IECMHC programs, promoting children’s well-being and reducing exclusion from learning. To address this issue effectively, policymakers should consider best practices (outlined in this series of policy briefs). While the recommendations here are specific to the early learning environment, they are applicable across the K-12 learning contexts as well.

Let’s come together to end the cycle of exclusion and unlock every child’s full potential. Together, we can build a more inclusive and equitable early learning system that sets the stage for lifelong success.

Read the full brief here and download previous policy briefs on the End Early Learning Exclusion webpage.

Read all the blog posts in this series:

About NCECF

The NC Early Childhood Foundation builds understanding, leads collaboration, and advances policies to ensure each North Carolina child is on track for lifelong success. Subscribe to our biweekly newsletter to learn how you can help transform the lives of North Carolina families.